The feds are having more problems with air-security personnel. At a hearing on Capitol Hill last week, aviation-security experts and Congressmen were surprised when it was disclosed that the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), the agency that protects the nation's air-traffic system, had to fire more than 1,200 airport screeners because security checks had turned up problems, including felony convictions, in their backgrounds. The TSA also admitted that it still has not completed background checks on 22,000 screeners, almost half the 52,000 screeners who are supposed to be helping guard the country's aviation system against terrorist threats.
Even worse, sources tell TIME, the TSA has had to put scores of federal air marshals (FAMs) on leave for discrepancies in background checks. The large number of grounded FAMs--the armed men and women who fly undercover and are authorized to use deadly force--has industry veterans worried. "It raises concerns about the entire TSA vetting process," says Captain Bob Lambert, who flies for a major airline and is president of the Airline Pilots' Security Alliance. "FAMs are arguably the most important part of our security system, but now, after several months of them flying around with weapons and the responsibility to shoot to kill, the TSA has to question their honesty?" TSA spokesman Brian Turmail says, "The FAMs have undergone extensive and complete background investigations, and during a rapid buildup of personnel, only a handful of discrepancies have arisen. The TSA has acted quickly to clear those up and will take appropriate action." --By Sally B. Donnelly